Friday, December 24, 2010

Flying home on Christmas Eve...

makes me feel much more like a cool, international jet-setter person than it should.  I'm considering a Grace Kelly style head scarf.

Merry Christmas everyone!
¡Feliz Navidad a todos!
Kellemes Kar√°csonyt mindenkinek!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some people like me!

So I recently was informed that I've been listed on a website's "Top 50 Teach Abroad Blogs" list.  And that's exciting and validating, and also a bit terrifying.  I feel a little bit more responsible for the content of my blog now!  And also that I should probably update more, so that should make my old readers, aka my family, happy.

Anyway, they listed a whole bunch of cool blogs, so if you like this one, you might like one of the others as well.  And then you can spend even more time on the internet, yay!  So do check them out.  My real-life friend Christie was also listed, so be sure to check her out, too.

And if any of you have wandered over here from there (welcome!) and are now clicking through blog after blog about living and teaching abroad, and wanting to do it but convincing yourself not to for any number of reasons... stop.  I did that for two years before I worked up the courage to move to Hungary, and that was the single best decision of my life.  Take the leap.  If nothing else, you'll have a great experience and grow as a person.  But if you're a little bit lucky and a lot bit determined, you'll fall in love with a new country, culture, language, and style of life and find your true self in the process.  And that's cheesy as hell, yes, but definitely true.

Kids these days

My students had their school Christmas shows this week.  On Monday was preschool, and it was super cute.  They mainly just sort of shuffled around on stage, though the five-year-olds did break out some impressive feats of coordination and even speaking (in Spanish, of course).  The costumes were super intense, and between that and my recent viewing of Love Actually, combined with my knowledge of Farsang in Hungary, I've decided that must just be a European thing.  I credit maternity/paternity leave and flex time for more parent involvement.

Anyway, I couldn't go to Tuesday's first-third presentation because I had a presentation in class.  I had originally chosen that date, then discovered there would be a Christmas show and found someone to change with me for last week.  Of course, then last week I went and got a pretty horrible case of pink eye, so I couldn't present and had to do it this week in the end.  Sigh.  Today was the fourth-sixth grade show, and it was really awesome.  Don't get me wrong, some parts were better than others.  But some of the parts were really actually quite funny and creative, and one in particular was hilarious.  I'll be writing a separate post about that later.

Both shows were interesting also for their heavy religious themes in certain skits, also very European and especially so given I'm at a Catholic school this year.  They both ended with our priest/director urging us, basically, to keep the Christ in Christmas.  Of course, he phrased it as an admonition to not deprive one's children of potential salvation.  It's funny because he's normally such a mellow guy, and I've seen him drink and dance and write potentially embarrassing gloating emails about Barcelona's football victory over Real Madrid (that was a fun one to receive).  And then Jesus comes up and he instantly goes full pre-Vatican II-style firey priest.

Another thing that really struck was the difference in the two groups.  Of course there are huge developmental differences between 3 and 12, something I get to experience every day due to my convoluted teaching schedule.  But the difference between the preschoolers stomping around and shaking their arms and the sixth graders dropping to the floor and writhing back up (in front of a priest!) while the song goes "dame un movimiento sexy" (give me a sexy move) was a little bit disconcerting.  And it made me a little bit sad that these eleven and twelve year old girls felt that they had to shake their hips and run their hands down their bodies to dance and that the boys felt they had to only pump their fists and strut around in a very masculine fashion.

I feel like I was lucky to grow up when I did rather than now.  Of course there was peer pressure and all that stuff.  Of course I've always felt a bit awkward, a little fat, whatever.  That's life and I think it's eternal and timeless.  I distinctly remember the first time I followed a peer-accepted/enforced trend, though, and it's really not the same for today's girls (and yes, I feel for the boys as well, but I can't identify with the experience as much).  In seventh grade everyone was wearing striped sweater vests over button down shirts, and I whined and whined until my mom bought me a few.  Seriously.  Sweater vests.  The girls today have their skirts rolled up to high heaven, they won't wear certain colors because those are "boy colors," third graders have told me they think they're fat, and on and on.  And it breaks my heart. 

Maybe I was an unusual kid.  Maybe my friends were, too.  Or maybe I really did feel all this pressure and just had parents that were tough enough to not let me dress like everyone else and have since forgotten about it. But I honestly don't remember this huge societal pressure towards the sexualization of young children.  And it's enfuriating.

Side note: the style of dress itself is not the issue.  I have no problem with girls rolling up their skirts for a large variety of reasons including that it's hot, that they are uncomfortable, that they want to run and play and find it easier to do so in a shorter skirt, that they find it an intriguing style choice, or that they just feel like it.  What I have the issue with is when I ask an eleven-year-old girl why she's rolled her skirt up so high and she replies that she has to do so or nobody will like her.  It's about the motivation.  I wear short skirts quite often, if I like the skirt.  Of course, I'm an adult, but still.  The skirt isn't the issue.  (And just because someone is wearing a short skirt doesn't mean you get to stare at their legs for twenty minutes at 2330, creepy bus dude.)  I've been a victim of the blame-the-clothes movement as a woman with breasts (they're there, and I'm not going to live in baggy Ts and turtlenecks, so if you see a shadow of cleavage or a bra strap, just realize it's not there to either offend or titillate, it's just there) and that is the last thing I'm saying.  Again, it's about the motivation.

Phew.  It looks like I'm going to be teaching this age group more in the future, and I hope I can handle it without spending the entire time going on feminist, anti-anything-phobic, choose-your-own-life, don't-be-ashamed-of-who-you-are style rants!

Anyway, despite the rather heavy place the shows took me, I did enjoy them immensely.  They showed such hard work and creativity, and were a lot of fun.  So I'll end by letting you look at cute pictures of kids, rather than with my rant.

This presentation actually allowed me to sit through Jingle Bells, my most despised Christmas song, without winding up shaking and rocking in the corner.  I would even venture that I sort of enjoyed it.
Waka-waka.  Of course.  All the groups in the entire school, from 3 to 19, did waka waka.  And also of course, the girls are Hawaii-themed "African dancers" and the boys are footballers.  At least these ones had the same dance moves regardless of gender.  And it was cute when they shrieked "WAKA WAKA" over and over.  I still don't hate waka-waka, shockingly enough.  Good job, Shakira.
These adorable three-year-old toy soldiers literally just sort of shook around on stage.  One fell.  It was very sweet.
A fourth-grade play about astronauts of confusing and often multiple nationalities that headed to Mars to look for minerals after we used up the Earth.  They are caught by Martians, menaced with "pumpkin lasers" by the Martians' guard-robots, and Pluto the dog is there, too.  Eventually they learn humility from the Martians, and convince them to release them through the power of dance.  Waka waka?  Of course!  It's stuff like this that makes me love teaching.
fourth-grade waka-wakistas
These sixth-grade boys put on the single best thing I've ever seen primary-school kids do.  If I don't blog about it separately soon, send me hate comments.  Because it was awesome.
Hmm... elementary school kids putting on a performance?  Recorders, definitely.
gangstas, yo

Monday, December 20, 2010

Barcelona (in pictures, naturally)

I've been to Barcelona twice now.  The first time was five years ago, and I thought it was beautiful.  However, that was at the height of both American-hating and Catalunyans-hating-Spain time.  And everyone basically just yelled at me for four days whenever I spoke English or Spanish, which was all I spoke!  So, yes, I thought Barcelona was beautiful.  But I hated it.  So I was a little reluctant to head back, but I am so glad that I did.

So the first weekend of December was the long puente (long long weekend) and I decided to head to Barcelona with some friends.  I had my staff Christmas party on Friday night (which was a huge deal and should hopefully get its own post sometime soon) so I headed to Barcelona on Saturday on the overnight bus.  Arriving to Barcelona in the early morning, still dark, I found my way to our hostel and dropped off my stuff, heading out to wander the city.  One of the things that most struck me was that I did the same thing a little over five years ago, and I was so nervous and confused and, frankly, scared to be arriving to a city in the dark.  This time I got a coffee, strolled over the metro, and confidently found my hostel.  What a difference five years makes.
I visited Plaza de Catalunya (pictured above) and the nearby Cathedral.
I got another coffee near the cathedral.  I think I may have a coffee problem.
There was, naturally, lots of cool street art.  You have to love Dali!
I wandered down the coast, played in the sand for a little bit, and got menaced by a giant lobster.
Lion statues in the plaza de Colon/Columbus.  Someday I'm going to print out all my pictures of various Lion statues from all over Europe and make a huge collage and stick it above my couch.
So I met up with my friends and took a nap in the afternoon.  That evening I went for a walk, hoping to visit the Sagrada Familia, and got horribly lost.  This was a bit stressful, but I eventually found my way back to the hostel and we got dinner.
And we also got some drinks.  All things should be served flaming, I think.
Carissa, Juliet(i), Jessica, Katie, and me.  I love them.
The next morning most people slept in, but Katie and I got up early and rented bikes.  We went out to the beach and then up and down the coast.
Katie went in the water with some crazy Russian dudes who were swimming around, but I was wearing tights so I opted out.  The coast was beautiful though, and we biked around for hours.  I could have burst into either hysterical laughter or tears, so happy was I to be back on a bike, warm wind blowing my hair and a bit of a gross sweat line developing under the strap of my bag.  Tiffany, baby (my old bike), I miss you so!
We found a cool park.
Then we biked up the hill to the Sagrada Familia.  I didn't go in this time, but it continues to be amazingly unique and beautiful.  This church is one of those things that I just look at, and tears spring to my eyes.  That man could make such a thing is incredible.  That such a thing could exist is incredible.  As Gaudi himself said, "man does not create, he only discovers."
Also a very nice man held up the flow of people so that I could get a picture with the church!
After lunch, we struggled (well, I struggled, Katie breezed in her freaky athletic-naturedness) up the hill to Park Guell.  Gaudi gaudi gaudi.  So beautiful, with musicians playing everywhere and the setting sun only helping the ambiance.
Tile work in the park.  We also climbed up to the highest point of the city and enjoyed the hazy and therefore poorly photographable but lovely nonetheless views.  Then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor up the hill and FLEW down the streets of Barcelona on their incredible bike lanes, my hair horizontal, my heart in my throat, and giddy noises escaping my mouth.
 We went out that night.  It was a more chill evening.  We did, however, buy Jessica a drink called the Monica Lewinsky.  Am I going to describe it here on my PG-13 rated blog?  Ask that little fellow up there.
Katie and I again woke up early, and headed to the market for breakfast.  We got pizza, and mine had hot dogs in it.  You would have thought we magically got transported to central Europe.
After breakfasts and some train mishaps, we headed out of town to Montserrat, where we met some friends of Katie's and headed up the mountain.  Montserrat, meaning serrated mountain, is a spiritual home of the Catalunyan people and is said to have been carved by tiny angels with golden saws.  We took the cog-wheel railway (or zipper, in Spanish) up to the top.
At the top there is, naturally, a monastery.  And to tell the truth, I think being a monk up here is a bit like cheating.  You look out the window, and of course you see God.
The monastery was beautiful, but it was definitely not the main draw.
The main draw, of course, would be the views.
We took the incredibly long funicular to the top of the mountain and played on the summit a bit.  I kept gasping and saying "amazing" and "epic."
Because really, amazing and epic are about all that cover it, right?

Self-portrait!  Oh, shock!
This cat was just sitting there, being chill and ignoring us while providing for some great photo ops.
And then we hiked down the mountain, caught the "zipper" back to town, caught the train back to Barcelona, and caught the bus back to Madrid.  And the girl who thought Barcelona was "pretty, but not my favorite city" was left enchanted, in love, and wanting to go back.  You win, Catalunya.  You win indeed. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Visit to Budapest

Afonyas Kardinal, Somloi Galuska, tejes kave
Lyla and I taking a cab home Saturday night
Hero's Square, naturally
This dog was walking around the park with his owner, a balloon tied to him that read "Original GPS."
all refreshed after the baths
at the airport
My visit to Budapest was awesome.  I saw my friends, played in the snow, ate pastries and stuffed cabbage, drank mulled wine, and went to the baths.  I talked for hours and generally felt very content with life.  Of course, I was only there for two short days and that wasn't nearly time enough.  I was very sad to leave.  It was as if I had a little taste of an old life that I loved and then I had to go back to the one that I currently lead.  Which don't get me wrong, it's quite nice.  But I don't quite love it.

What is it about Budapest?  I wish I knew or that I could put it into words.  But I can't quite phrase it.  It's just sort of right.  I was so happy to visit it and see all my friends (and Lyla in from England as well) again!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to win the heart of an English teacher...

Seriously, there are lessons to be learned in this video.  And yes, it is a bit inappropriate!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In 24 hours...

I land in Budapest!  Everyone say "eeeeeeeeeeeeee" with me!

I seriously should not be so excited over a weekend away!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I just phoned up (thank goodness for Skype, really) both our selected restaurant and our chosen starting bar for Saturday night in Budapest and reserved tables.  And I did so easily.  Take that, decaying language center!

I really don't think that I could be more excited.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

European Medicine

I'm at home sick.  And this is good, because while I actually don't feel all that horrible, I am just a disgusting human being right now.  I have a lung infection, and as such am just coughing and hacking and wheezing.  Plus my voice is just pretty much gone.  I can sort of croak a few words at a time.  So it's probably for the best that I am not at school.

On Monday I went to the doctor about my illness, where he looked in my ears, made a hissing noise, and then x-rayed my lungs.  I was written several prescriptions and sent home "de baja" or on medical leave.  Now, I also had an appointment with the gynecologist for that afternoon, which I had gone through hell and high water to set up, so I was determined to keep it.  So I stumbled home from the first clinic, started taking all my meds, and headed out to the second appointment of the day.  This appointment was in the nearby town of Villalba, which takes about 30 minutes to get to.  So I walked the twenty minutes down the hill to the cercanias train, then rode the train for the ten minutes to Villalba.  Of course, the train only goes once an hour, so I had the choice of either showing up 45 minutes early or 15 minutes late.  So the receptionist scolded me for being early.  I explained that I had a book and was happy to sit, and she sort of scoffed and waved me away to the waiting room.

Ladies went in and out of the doctor's office with a shocking speed.  They were seriously in there for only a few minutes each, and I wondered what could possibly be going on.  When my name was finally called, I realized what was up.  The doctor's appointment was actually just to sort of chat with the doctor.  Now, I was very sick and my brain was a bit foggy, so I can only imagine how pathetically I managed to pull that off.  So I chatted with the doctor about how my uterus has gone raving mad in the absence of hormonal birth control, and how I would like a prescription for the ring again (I would seriously wear Tshirts advertising the thing, I love it that much).  Then he wrote me out little prescriptions for a pap test, some blood work, and an ultrasound.  I have to return to the same clinic tomorrow morning for the pap and blood test, without eating first of course, and then go back to Villalba, but to a different clinic around the corner, for the ultrasound.  After that, I will have to return to the original doctor and get the prescription for the ring.

It's all just unnecessarily complicated, even with the private insurance provided by my school.  If I wasn't already de baja, I would have had to miss one and a half days of work for all this.  That's assuming I can go to the first clinic after getting the ultrasound tomorrow afternoon and get the prescription, but of course there is a good chance I will have to first make yet another appointment.  Which will make my fourth one-hour-plus round trip in this endeavor.

No wonder women have unwanted pregnancies!  Granted, I'm using mine to prevent insane uterus shenanigans.  But still.  The number of loops that I have had to jump through to stay on birth control throughout my life have been, frankly, insane.  And this is with the privilege of health insurance and jobs that allow me to take time off to go to appointments.  Plus when I eventually do get the prescription, it's going to be a fun 20 euro a month expense, which I make little enough to notice.

If this little rant made you feel uncomfortable, I do apologize.  But I find it just so frustrating that I have to make such an effort to live a life where I don't spend 3 out of every 19 days feeling like I'm being stabbed repeatedly in the gut.  And that so many other women have to do the same to have simple, responsible control over their own bodies.  It's just rant-inducing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Balint's visit

So in the first week of November (was it already that long ago?) Balint came to visit me here in San Lorenzo.  I'd been looking forward to his visit for a long time; he almost never travels and yet loves everything new, so it's great fun to see new things with him.  For being 31, he has so much more of a sense of wonder than I have, gasping and pointing at things, being amazed, taking a million pictures.  It's a beautiful thing to see and it reminds me a little bit to chill out and stop and look around me as I run through this crazy life of mine.  Beyond that, it was nice to have someone with me here in my pueblo... it made things less lonely.  But most of all, it was just good to see my Balint, who has become so very dear to me, and spend time with him and get to know each other better.

I was honestly just really shocked when he actually bought his ticket and came to Spain.  Pleasantly shocked, of course.  We have a friendship where I'm never actually sure if we are friends, because I know virtually nothing about the guy, and because he is just so unneedy and happy being alone.  I, on the other hand, demand constant love and validation.  We're just opposite personalities, and I don't always know how to react to or interpret his personality.  I'm sure he feels the same way!  His actually coming to Spain made me sure that we are friends, though, which was the best part about the whole visit.

I miss his face.  Also, take that, popular opinion: I love a man to tiny little pieces, and we're actually friends. 

I lent him my camera, so all pictures are his.

I picked him up Friday night from the airport and we talked and mostly I just repeated "I'm so glad you're actually here" until he was embarrassed.  Saturday we were up pretty early for some sightseeing in Madrid.  Here he is in Plaza Mayor.

Me in front of the Cathedral de la Almudena.  This is one of my favorite churches, because the inside is so different from what you would expect from the outside.

Inside the Cathedral, it is all painted in bright rainbow colors, and the light falls through the stained glass windows and lights upon the floor, the pews, and the people inside in technicolor swaths.  I sat quietly and said some prayers for the many sick and injured people in my life, while Balint ran to see every angle.  Then we sat quietly for awhile together.  So I said a prayer for him, too, and then we headed out into the sun.

Me in the Plaza de Espana with Quijote.

I included this photo because Balint and I had a huge discussion about these two buildings.  He insisted the one on the right was taller.  I insisted that he was a crazy person, and obviously the one on the left is taller.  I was right.  After this we wandered for a bit more and then had dinner: tortilla, croquetas, and patatas bravas.  It was delicious, and Balint fell in love with croquetas.  Then it was off to meet my friends for a bit, then sit in a smoky bar and watch the Real Madrid match.  That's right: Balint sat in a smoky bar.

The next morning it was up early (for the second year in a row forgetting about daylight savings time on the way) and off to the Rastro, where I bought myself a pair of earrings and Balint bought himself all sorts of Spain goodies, including presents for his parents and the coveted Spanish national team jersey.  When I couldn't take it anymore and was on the verge of an agoraphobic fit, we had chocolate con churros (yum, and also my first during this visit to Spain) and then headed up to Plaza de las Ventas to check out a bit of traditional Spanish culture, at least as much as my soft heart will allow.
Unfortunately, there was some sort of beer festival going on, so it wasn't the most traditional of moments at the bull ring.  So Balint ran out to do his own mini San Fermin, and then we went and had lunch.

After lunch we took a nice walk through the Salamanca district and ended at the Retiro, where we chilled on a park bench.  I think this was my favorite moment of the visit.  It was very calm at the park, we could talk and relax, and I was happy.

Then it was off for more sightseeing!

Including Plaza de Cibeles and El Banco de Espana.

We checked out Temple of Debod...

and caught the awesome Madrid sunset.

On Monday we went to Toledo.  Now, I like Toledo.  Most people like Toledo.  Balint, though?  He loved Toledo.  He took so many pictures, and giddily almost pranced from one sight to the next, even when Toledo invariably got us lost in its winding streets.  He was totally entranced and amazed and infatuated with the city.  And now I think I love Toledo a little bit more.

The back of the Cathedral, which we went inside after lunch when I was a little tipsy from my menu-included wine.  Nevertheless, I remembered all my art and Spanish history and gave many many details on the architecture, culture, and so on.  Balint accepted my tour-guiding like a champ.

The front of the Cathedral.
This is absolutely not the best picture of me, but it's still cute.

Balint in the Monastery de los Reyes, in front of an orange tree.

itty-bitty doors

the mandatory Lauren-and-Weasel picture

the courtyard of the Monastery

A gorgeous pink sunset over gorgeous Toledo... there is a saying that if the red clouds float in a purple sky, you will achieve that which you most desire, but at a price.  I wonder what will happen to me.

On Tuesday a very tired Balint (not used to my epic fits of walking through cities) slept in while I went to work.  After work I made us lunch, and then we headed to Alcala de Henares to check that out.  He loved the storks.  But then again, I love the storks.  Storks are good luck, and are so encouraged to build their nests atop old buildings.  Storks also mate for life... the male comes back to the nest in the winter, and waits for the female.  When she arrives, they repair their nest and then raise their young.  Storks are mostly silent, but if their pair dies they sit in the nest and cry for days.  It's a heart-wrenching sound.
Plaza de Cervantes, who grew up here.

my university's building

After wandering Alcala, we headed back into Madrid.  We had dinner at El Almendro, which was of course delicious.  Then we sat around for a long time, talking, me drinking manzanilla wine, and I taught him some Spanish.  The waiter even brought over extra placemats for me to write on.  It was a lot of fun, just a great dinner.  And on the way home we walked through the longest metro tunnel ever.  It was a little bit creepy.

On Wednesday Balint came to work with me, which was awesome!  It was seriously just so great to have him there in the halls with me.  In Hungary, whenever I was exasperated, and I think when he was too, we would just make eye contact and immediately smile at each other.  I did that at one point during the day, and my heart almost broke with it.  I didn't realize how much I really missed him until just then.

We went for a walk around the park and then hung out in the evening.

On Thursday Balint climbed the mountain above my town, getting me lots of awesome photos.

Apparently he thought it was a pretty epic hike, too.

Then while I was in class he went by himself to Bernabeu stadium, where he took about a hundred photos, mostly of photos...

and he went to Plaza Castilla...

and he walked up to the European towers, which are cool because you can see them from San Lorenzo.  Then we had dinner and a beer with Carisa, and headed home.

On Friday Balint took himself to the monastery, then I made him lunch and took him to the airport.  I did not cry until he was through security, at which point I must admit that I did.  Not much, though, since it was only three weeks until my visit to Budapest!